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CLC Blog

It’s time to protect Alberta doctors from being forced to participate in euthanasia, abortion

January 20, 2024 (Campaign Life Coalition) – Now is the perfect time for Premier Danielle Smith’s UCP government to introduce a conscience rights law to protect healthcare workers. Let me explain why.

Alberta’s regulatory college for medical doctors recently drew up plans to coerce doctors and other healthcare workers to participate in procedures that many of them see as not only bad medicine but also morally problematic, including abortion, assisted suicide, and so-called “gender-affirming” interventions.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) proposed to update its Standards of Practice. The update would have forced doctors who only want to use their medical knowledge for healing, not for killing or mutilating, to participate in procedures they oppose by actively referring the patient to someone else who is willing to do the dirty deed.

The proposed update would have required doctors to “maintain an effective referral plan” for services they believe to be unethical, unsafe, and even immoral. The plan was abandoned after numerous doctors spoke out strongly against the proposal, some of them threatening to leave the province if the proposal passed.

In essence, many doctors of conscience see making an effective referral as them being the first domino in a row of events that result in the killing or mutilation of their patient. It’s like being ordered to load bullets into a gun so that someone else can execute a prisoner. It’s not direct but participating in a material way that is not negligible. Such doctors, especially those who adhere to the Hippocratic Oath of doing “no harm” to their patients, want no part in the demise of their patients. And, just like every other Canadian, they too enjoy the Charter guarantee of “freedom of conscience.” They do not surrender their rights and freedoms just because they practice medicine.

This is why Alberta must follow Manitoba’s example by passing a law that protects medical professionals who choose not to participate in procedures that they are ethically and morally opposed to.

Manitoba’s Bill 34, passed in November 2017, protects doctors of conscience by stating that medical practitioners may “refuse to provide” and “to aid in” medical assistance in dying “on the basis of his or her personal convictions.” The law furthermore clarifies that a professional regulatory body “must not make a regulation, by-law, rule or standard that requires a member of the regulated profession to provide or aid in the provision of medical assistance in dying.”

One prominent Alberta doctor threatened to move out of the province if she was forced to make effective referrals.

“Many physicians are ethically opposed to newer aspects of medicine, such as MAID (euthanasia), as well as more established controversial medical services, such as abortion. If I will be forced to participate, even at arms length, to a procedure I am morally opposed to, something I view akin to murder, I will be unable to continue practicing medicine in this province,” wrote Dr. Shauna Burkholder, a Pediatric Critical Care Physician and Medical Director at Alberta Children’s Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, on CPSA’s forum seeking feedback on its proposal.

Dr. Matt McIsaac, a sport medicine physician practicing in Canmore, Alberta, said that many doctors who value the “sanctity of life as primary” would see making an effective referral in the case of euthanasia as participating in “murder.” “To proactively send someone to seek planned death at the hands of a physician is a sin of commission,” he wrote on CPSA’s feedback forum.

Dr. Rebecca Genuis, a medical doctor from Edmonton who helps women struggling with infertility, PCOS and hormonal imbalances, said that forcing doctors to make an effective referral will neither serve patients nor physicians.

There is a strong desire among Albertans to legislate more protections for the province’s healthcare workers.

Last November, grassroots members of the UCP passed a resolution (Policy proposal 16) at the party’s AGM calling for protection for Alberta physicians from “undue third-party interference,” while, at the same time, calling for protections for doctors from being compelled to “prescribe treatments” with which they disagreed.

It took 15,000 letters from Manitobans for the government to pass conscience rights protections for doctors. It will take just as many, if not more, to do the same in Alberta, especially since a previous bill (207) to protect doctors’ conscience rights was defeated in 2019.

Let your MLA know that it’s time for Alberta to protect conscience rights of doctors. Click here to use CLC's Action Alert Email platform to contact your MLA. 

Don’t delay, the future of Alberta’s healthcare system is at stake.